Friday, 1 April 2011

Canon 100mm f2.8 macro - Quick review

My Nikon gear is selling thick and fast. One of the lenses I am most upset about parting with has just been sold - the 105mm Micro Nikkor. What a great lens. I've determined that I will get the same lens in the Canon version for my 5D, so to that end I 'borrowed' one today (thanks Nicky) to have a bit of a play.

And here it is - the Canon 100mm f2.8 USM macro. A formidable lens, and the equal (if not better) to my Nikkor micro.

The first thing I noticed was the weight - it's a solid lens at over half a kg (584gms) in weight. There's good quality plastic being used, but there is also a lot of metal and glass that makes this one hefty piece of kit. I'm not complaining mind you. It isn't that heavy. But even on the 5D it holds its own in terms of weight and heft. That's a + in my book.

The other immediate positive is the focus system with the ring type USM. It makes for fast and silent autofocusing - especially when the lens is used as a telephoto portrait optic. This image of Emily was shot wide open at f2.8, and it's as sharp as a tack on the eyes and facial features - right where I positioned the focus points. It's as good, if not better, than the Nikkor in terms of wide open image sharpness for portraiture, and the out-of-focus background blur (or bokeh) is also working in this lenses favour. Very pleasing (although not completely round), out of focus 'balls' from the 8-bladed aperture produce a very creamy background quality - especially in 1:1 macro.

1:1 macro with beautiful colour rendition

Auto focus was even possible down to 1:1 macro, although it did hunt a bit and I switched to manual for most of the true macro shooting with this lens (as I did with the Nikkor).

I haven't purchased this lens myself yet - I'm waiting for a good used one to appear on Trademe - but in looking around I have come across the third-party offerings from the likes of Tamron and Sigma. They get pretty good write-ups most of the time too. The two things that put me off seriously considering them for my macro/portrait work are the inferior (noisy) screw-type focusing systems, and the fact that the barrels extend a great deal as the lenses are focused to full 1:1 magnification. The Canon might start out a longer lens, but it does all the lens extensions internally, and doesn't extend any barrels from the front of the lens. I find this a huge help when shooting macro, because I already know how close I can physically get the lens to my subjects - quite often small jittery creatures who are flighty at the best of times. So I see the Canon's fixed length as a real bonus.

My Girl   f2.8, Canon 100mm Macro
The other major drawcard with these lenses? They do double duty. Not only do they introduce you to the world of true 1:1 macro (whereas the 50mm and 60mm  macro lenses don't), they also hold their own as superb medium-telephoto portrait lenses! Talk about the best of both worlds!

NZ Native Pohutakawa Flower
That's why I think these lenses make fantastic sense. They may be a 'prime' fixed focal length lens (and not a zoom), but even for a wedding photographer like me, there are so many uses for a macro lens on a wedding day. Close up dress details, wedding rings, flower shots, table decoration, cake details - all shot in macro. And then there's the bridal party images you can shoot with the 100mm telephoto wide open at f2.8. Bride and groom portraits, bridal party individuals - the list goes on and on.

I could shoot a wedding without taking a 100mm macro with me. But would I want to?


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